Over 168 miners were killed after a pit mine in Hpakant was flooded with a tsunami of mud and waste in Myanmar on July 2nd. Weeks of heavy rainfall during the monsoon season led to a massive lake of water in the Wai Khar jade mine. Unsecured mounds of mining waste were piled 1000ft on either side of the pit mine above workers. As the rain continued, the mountains began to slide down toward the workers. Suddenly, the waste fell, slamming into the flooded mine at an extremely high speed and causing a wave of mud, waste, and water to propel out of the mine and rush through the entire area. The miners had no time to escape; some made it out, but 60 were injured along with 168 dead. The search for the missing miners is still ongoing, but due to the inclement weather, it is proving extremely difficult.
The jade mining industry and its profits are largely controlled by the country’s military and government. Myanmar’s government closes off mining areas every year during the rainy season because of the inevitable dangers and risks. But, this doesn’t stop rebel groups from taking advantage. The most powerful rebel army in the country, the Kachin, take over the mines illegally once the government shuts them down. The Kachin allows migrant jade pickers to search for overlooked gems in the mines — for a price.
Civil unrest and the nation’s economic troubles force many migrants to travel here and mine blood jade to survive and feed their families. By the thousands, men descend into these stadium-sized pits, hoping to emerge with quality jadeite, their ticket out of poverty. These unauthorized migrants must hand over much of their earnings to the rebel army, putting further stress on their financial situation; they have no other choice. Myanmar’s increasingly troubled economy is often overlooked, as the armed conflicts between people and the government’s military continue to tear the country apart. The ongoing genocides of the Rohingya Muslims and civil wars between the Kachin and Shan states to the north are fueled by the jade industry, worth billions of dollars per year.
Blood mining funds deadly tragedies, conflicts, and slavery all around the world, every day. This is not new — every year during the rainy season in Myanmar, there is yet another headline about a collapsed mine and casualties. Ancient Eastern art and culture gave jade gemstones a high status. But today, nothing in the extraction of jade is morally or environmentally justifiable. Many call jadeite, a variety of jade, the diamond of the East, and the demand is as high as it is for diamonds. In the shadows of this jade-rush, awful stories like these come too often from the jade mines of Myanmar. Landslides caused by the jade mining activity in Myanmar kill people every year, and working conditions in the mines are often so unhealthy that many miners turn to heroin and opium to endure the dire conditions. Rivers all throughout Myanmar are extremely polluted, and vast swaths of the biodiverse jungle are destroyed through illegal land grabs by the rebel armies with violence and funding from jade. Myanmar produces around 70% of the world’s jadeite, and deposits found in Myanmar’s northern regions, like Kachin, are considered to be the highest quality in the world.
This is one of the worst mining tragedies the country has ever seen, and the scale of conflict and environmental issues here can only grow. TheWorldCounts says more than 15,000 miners are killed every year, and that is just the official number of authorized workers’ deaths. Blood gems, also called conflict gems, as defined by the United Nations, are any gems that are mined in areas controlled by forces opposed to the legitimate, internationally recognized government of a country and that are sold to fund military action against that government. Conflict diamonds are estimated to make up as high as 15% of the world’s diamond trade, and Global Witness estimates that conflict jade industry value was 31 billion dollars in 2014 — nearly half of Myanmar’s GDP.
The traditional blood gem and diamond industry has used every trick in the book to mislead the public about the social impact of their product. They gloss over the deforestation and pollution that are inflicted on countries caught up in their exploitation. Their disregard for human life and civil rights in pursuit of profit has created and continues to cause enormous suffering. Not long ago, couples were trapped between the high moral and financial costs of diamond rings and the intense pressure of tradition. Clean Origin offers the solution to that dilemma. Our stones are conflict-free, 100% ethically sourced, and come at a lower cost than mined diamonds. Put your conscience at ease, and be on the right side of history.